Reflections 2nd January 2022

On my mind.

Whilst the end of the year is a precious time for reflection and stilling, the beginning of a new year is energising, There are those few days of promise and idealism, the very stuff of resolutions (and maybe revolutions), before for most the routines and obligations of the old year come calling and we find ourselves, like coming back from a leadership course, sinking back into an unthreatening “normal,’ with all the idealism filed under “later”

Maybe not this year.

After two years of pandemic disruption, we now know with a great degree of clarity whether we are part of a group who want to genuinely explore the opportunities that have appeared, or those who would rather return gratefully to the comfortable familiar.

Whichever camp we fall into, I suspect we all sense the same seismic changes building in the way that seismometers and radon gas detectors pick up the early signs of a coming earthquake. Our choice becomes to hope, or to prepare. So how do we prepare for something that we know is coming, but not when, or where, or exactly how it might manifest?

People in earthquake zones build their houses accordingly – either to withstand the shock, or to be able to rebuild quickly after it. People who live in the mountains learn to read the slope for likelihood of avalanches. The military practice incessantly for the unexpected. Most businesses on the other hand, make do with buying insurance (compensation for change rather than preparation) and, if they’re big enough, look to Governments to bail them out.

As we enter 2022, in the knowledge that what we have experienced in the last two years is just the first gentle needle twitches on the seismograph, what might we do?

Skin in the Game

We have no shortage of advice, in whatever field we choose, and we face two challenges. The first is that many of those advising have studied the subjects, often at length, but have never practised. There is a world of difference between advising on cash flow and the sleepless nights wondering how you’re going to meet the wage bill this month for people who rely on you. The second is that often, those who have the experience of the sleepless nights often haven’t had the time to study the theory, and rely on obsolescent experience. Both schools are well intentioned, but insufficient. Effective action happens where action meets agency. Skin in the Game.

Our individualistic society demands that, if we are an adviser, we are supposed to be enough, alone. It is of course patently absurd. Even more absurd is the idea that advisers should get paid regardless of results. The Romans used to insist that bridge builders, and their families slept under the bridges they built, whilst in use, until their security was evident. Advisers might want to think about that.

We are in a period where there are no experts – all of our knowledge is, by definition historic. When it comes to right now, we are all equally, if differently confused. What we need is curiosity, humility, and teamwork. Or put another way, dialogue.

Two hours a week is a start.

Two hours a week

I’m a boomer. That means my entire education and training was spent learning how to work the machine. First at University, then in the R.A.F, then in business. Leadership, process, performance. Hierarchy. Shareholder primacy. Those in the generations following me have had more of the same – only maybe more “efficiently,” until perhaps the latest generation who, I think, recognise what’s happening but do not yet have the power to change it.

Our cultures focus us on the workplace, often learning old knowledge and techniques from a decade or more ago (training develops slowly – no courses on boat rocking).

“In a world of change, the learners shall inherit the earth, while the learned shall find themselves perfectly suited for a world that no longer exists.”

Eric Hoffer

Our precious, scarce, private time often consists of essential family maintenance, and gentle anaesthesia from the work week in the form of the gym, or as often, the screen and sedative of choice. We find ourselves playing the role we have adopted, as leader, manager, or parent. Which, whilst entirely understandable (I had decades of practice) is a shame, because those practices are not the ones we will need when the ripples turn to shocks. For that, we need who we really are, the curious learner, not just the learned role holder, to turn up.

We are all uniquely talented and capable individuals, and yet, we sublimate most of that talent to fit into where we work. I was talking with one well paid, gifted, senior manager in a consultancy who reckoned she spent sixty percent of her time keeping her manager supplied with work that was of little direct use to the projects she was on, but very useful in political point scoring. Dilbert lives. There is a better, simpler, inexpensive if slightly insurgent way out of our stasis.

For the last two years, a group of us have been meeting for two hours a week, every week, with no other purpose than turning up as humans to share company, enjoy good conversation, and enjoy our own little “island of sanity” in the midst of what is going on around us. It turns out, it has much in common with play which we know is the crucible of creativity. When roles, and status, and knowledge is set aside to make room for curiosity, laughter and noticing the absurd, there is magic to be found. It’s a bit like finding Billy Connolly on your board of directors.

It is also what we need to surface, because the skills most of us are using in our efficient workplaces are wide open to the various forces of AI, Machine learning, M&A, and other technology whizzbangs, whilst our humanity, insight, connection, humour and capacity for love and play is unique and irreplaceable. Love, humour, meaning and joy is what we are all drawn towards. They are irreplaceable human capabilities, and as such at the very heart and soul of what makes business tick. If we want to thrive, we need to escape the confines of the other MBA businesses ask us to become – Meat Based Algorithms. All process, no passion, and borrowed purpose.

Two hours a week to connect to our inner Billy is a small price to pay for future relevance.

Starting

The beauty of conversation is that all we have to do is turn up as ourselves. No ego, no status crutch, nothing to prove. Just making connection, sharing meaning, exercising curiosity, for the sake of it. No “training,” no assessments, just laughter with a chance of joy. It feels a little like pressing the “reset” button; a little nervous about what we might lose, but the with relief of being able to start clean.

There are very few rules, just guidelines. This is what we have found at Originize:

  • Small groups – eight seems optimum – enough people to be heard, and enough for no one person to dominate. More than ten is too many, fewer than six is too few.
  • It seems to help when everybody knows somebody, but nobody knows everybody at the outset.
  • No goals or objectives – it’s a virtual version of a walk in the woods with friends, enjoying the scenery and each other’s company.
  • No fees, other than anything we choose to share costs on. Paid facilitation skews the relationship. We pay with our attention to each other.
  • Simple routines – a two minute check in each, and let the conversation go where it will – it always does – and a five minute check out at the end.

We can all.di it. It’s what came naturally as three year olds, then had submerged by the time we got to seven by the system that demands compliance and adherence to the dogma of the privileged.

We’re naturals.

If you want the theory, have a look at David Bohm “On Dialogue”, or Gregg Satell “Cascades”, or Adam Kahane ‘Power and Love.” If you’d like to see how it works for us, mail me at richard@richardmerrick.co.uk and we can talk, or maybe join us on one of our regular calls, or one of our Eventbrite sessions.

One Resolution

To find our way out of the mess we have created for ourselves, we need make only one resolution. Two hours a week of dialogue – conversation without the blinders of goals, objectives, or milestones. Two hours of looking around with others who see the world differently to us, and who bring things to our attention we have not noticed, as we in turn do for them. Putting the map down for a while, and looking at the reality of the territory.

By the end of January, we will all have made a choice. Too see things anew, or to fall back into more of the same.

A lot of turkeys have recently realised the reality of the comfortable free range life they had been leading.

Let’s not be turkeys.


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